BJMC Temps: Leading miserable lives
More than 32,000 substitute and temporary workers of the state-run jute mills, which were closed on July 1 last year for modernisation, are leading miserable lives as they have not received their dues yet.
Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) owes these workers Tk 323 crore in arrears from 2015 to 2020 due to implementation of the new pay scale in January 2020 as per Productivity and Wage Commission-2015.
These workers are also yet to receive wages of eight weeks from 2020, when the factory was closed due to national lockdown, and six weeks wages from 2019, when there was a protest demanding implementation of the new wage scale.
According to worker leaders, the amount of due wages for each worker was not fixed but ranges from Tk 50,000 to Tk 4,50,000 as these workers used to be paid on "no work, no pay" basis.
While most of the 25,000 permanent workers of the jute mills have already received their wages and financial benefits, these temporary and substitute workers have been completely left out and even evicted from the labour quarters.
The BJMC, however, is unsure as to when these substitute (badli) and temporary workers will get all their dues as it needs separate allocations for the payment.
Ruhul Amin, leader of the jute mill workers who has been released recently from jail, said, "We are now afraid that the substitute and temporary workers may never get their dues as we have not received any updates from BJMC in last one year. Most of these workers are unemployed and even many of them are begging on the streets."
Ashraful Islam, a former substitute worker of Platinum Jubilee Jute Mills said, "I pull rickshaw van in bazar and my son helps me load and unload goods from my van. He also carries goods on his back to earn some money. My wife and daughter sells balloons and toys at the railway station. There is no hope of sending them to school again."
"The jute mills owes me Tk 250,000 to Tk 300,000. If I get that money, I will return to my village home in Barishal and will try to set up a small shop," he said.
Just about a week ago, one of Ashraful's neighbours, sixty-five-year-old worker, Alimuddin died after a heatstroke while pulling rickshaw in Khulna city.
Alimuddin's son Md Hasan said, "My mother is very ill and we need money to purchase medicine for her. I also pull rickshaw but due to excessive heat and lockdown, people do not usually come out of their homes which significantly affected my income. So my father, who never pulled a rickshaw before, went out with a rickshaw to earn some money."
"I heard that my father will get several hundred thousand taka from the mill but there is no sign of that money. I could not even arrange the money for my father's burial. Some of his colleagues helped me arrange his funeral," said Hasan.
Kamal Hossain used to work as a substitute worker at Amin Jute Mill in Chattogram.
He said, "A few days ago, my younger brother got seriously injured in a road accident. The doctor wanted to operate on my brother's head and it cost around Tk 200,000. I could not manage that money at that time and my brother ultimately died from that injury."
"I'm yet to receive at least Tk 300,000 due wages from the mill. Had I received that money, It might have saved my brother," said Kamal.
In such a desperate situation, these workers are waiting for another Eid in starvation devoid of joy.
"I cannot even feed my family three times a day. How can I purchase milk, sugar and shemai [vermicelli] for them? In fact, this year, Eid day means no income for me as all the bazars will be closed and I may not find anything to carry on the van," said Ashraful.
"This Eid is only for the high-ranking officers of BJMC who still have their jobs, leading luxurious lives, but they are procrastinating our legal dues. However, they did not make any delay to sack the workers en masse and evict us from our homes. Allah will not tolerate such injustice," commented an angry Kamal.
WHAT BJMC SAY
Abdur Rouf, chairman of the BJMC, said, "I agree that it is the rightful demand of the temporary and substitute workers and we shall definitely pay their due wages. However, their dues were not included in the initial allocation of Tk 5,000 crore. It was only for paying the debts and paying the due salary and benefits of the permanent workers."
So, to pay these workers, the BJMC has asked for another allocation of around Tk 300 crore from the finance ministry.
The BJMC still could not pay dues of around 2,000 permanent workers due to discrepancy in the spellings of their names. According to the BJMC, once the cases of permanent workers are resolved and BJMC got that requested allocation, they will start paying the temporary and substitute workers.
"The finance ministry is extremely busy preparing the annual budget and the ongoing lockdown has also affected the working hours. So, we cannot confirm when we will be able to start to paying them," said the BJMC chairman.